Houma, LA – Today concludes an historic visit to the oil-battered Gulf Coast of the United States by a delegation of Indigenous and community leaders from the Ecuadorean Amazon, who spent a week investigating the impacts along the oil-stained coastline, as well as presenting lessons from their own decades-long struggle with Chevron’s oil devastation of their rainforest lands.
At a time when residents of the Gulf Coast are reeling from the immediate economic, environmental and pyschological impacts of the oil disaster, the Ecuador delegation provided long term strategies on how to hold a major international oil company accountable for environmental devastation.
The United Houma Nation, a Native American tribe in southeast Louisiana severely affected by the Gulf oil spill, hosted the Ecuadoreans on the Gulf Coast. The delegation concluded with a large community Town Hall meeting included Houma community members and other local Indigenous Nations, as well as Coastal First Nations leaders from British Columbia, Canada.
“What we’ve seen along the Gulf Coast is a terrible tragedy, the result of a greedy, power-hungry industry that profits from devastation,” said Luis Yanza, lead organizer of the Amazon Defense Coalition. “The only way to hold these companies accountable is to be united.”
Many are calling the BP disaster on the Gulf Coast the largest environmental disaster in American history. Already the oil spill, which quickly surpassed the Exxon Valdez in size, has sparked a national debate about the danger of America’s dependence on oil.
The delegation from Ecuador to the Gulf Coast has also raised serious questions about the behavior of American oil companies abroad. While the American public is furious with the negligence of foreign multinational BP, the companies’ disaster is also casting attention on Chevron’s responsibility for massive devastation in Ecuador and other unresolved situations of abuse by ‘Big Oil.’
The week-long visit included boat tours of oil-choked coastland, cultural exchanges with Native American tribes, and visits with scientists and other experts on the impacts of oil contamination.
“BP’s Gulf spill was an accident due to the company’s recklessness while Chevron intentionally dumped toxic waste that poisoned our communities in Ecuador, but our situation is the same. Like us, the Houma and other people here live off the land and now their way of life is under grave threat from oil.” said Emergildo Criollo, Cofan leader.
At the Town Hall on Thursday evening, the Ecuadoreans presented a report containing ten lessons that the communities in Ecuador have compiled from their experience confronting severe oil contamination. Titled La Mancha Perpetua del Petroleo: Advertencias y Lecciones de la Amazonia, the report details some of the hidden health, environmental, cultural, and economic impacts of an oil disaster, as well as lessons for holding the polluter accountable and planning for long-term recovery. Prepared by the Asamblea de Afectados por Texaco (The Assembly of Communities Affected by Chevron/Texaco), the report was distributed to the people attending the event and other Gulf Coast residents during the visit.
Download a PDF of the report here:
“We have been saddened to learn that even here in the U.S., the technology does not exist to prevent horrific oil disasters,” said Humberto Piaguaje, Secoya leader. “We have met with many affected people here to share our lessons from Ecuador. The most important thing we told all of the people we encountered is to unite and maintain unity while fighting for environmental cleanup and justice.”
"We come together in solidarity, in a fight for our survival," said Brenda Dardar Robichaux, United Houma Nation Tribal Council leader. "The oil and gas industry does provide jobs but it does not give them the right to destroy a culture, to destroy a people, to destroy a way of life."
The United Houma Nation is a state recognized Tribe of approximately 17,000 citizens that reside along the coastal marshes of southeast Louisiana. Traditionally Houmas have lived off the land and work as fishermen and trappers. As the Deepwater Horizon disaster unfolds it holds a deeper meaning for the Houmas, who reside on the front lines – it is the uncertainty of whether the culture of the Houma as it stands today will survive.
Experts estimate that approximately 345 million gallons of pure crude were discharged into Ecuador’s rainforest and waterways relied on by local groups for fishing, bathing, and drinking. For decades, Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste and left over 900 unlined, open-air toxic waste pits in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. The contamination has decimated Indigenous groups in Ecuador and caused an outbreak of illness, birth defects, and cancers that have accounted for at least 1,400 deaths.
Photos of delegation available for publication, courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh/Rainforest Action Network: http://bit.ly/bBSgZn
Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org